4. Ferīdūn Beg’s Münşeʾātü ’s-Selāṭīn (‘Correspondence of Sultans’) and Late Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Views of the Political World

Dimitris Kastritsis
The question of Ottoman political geography has yet to be addressed in any depth. The place of the science of geography in the Ottoman Empire has received some attention in recent years, as has the cultural meaning of the geographical term “lands of Rūm,” broadly signifying the former Byzantine territories where the Ottoman venture began, the core regions of Ottoman civilization. [1] What is missing, however, is an examination of the place of geographical space in the ideology of empire, the study of which has thus far been confined to the examination of court ceremonial and more explicit political discourse. [2] Put differently, we may have some idea why an author like the seventeenth-century polymath Kātib Çelebi wrote about geography the way he did, or how the Ottomans represented their relations with other powers in court ceremonial, processions, and illustrated manuscripts; but what is mostly lacking is an examination of how the Ottomans conceived of political geography, of the position of their own empire within a larger world made up of other state actors, and how this relates to the real political situation at any given time. It is that gap that the present chapter begins to address, if only to a very limited degree.
Given the state of the field and the near total absence of a secondary literature dealing directly with the problem at hand, the aims of this contribution are necessarily modest. Far from constituting a comprehensive examination of the development of Ottoman geographical consciousness across several centuries, what follows is but a tentative glimpse at a particular period in the empire’s history, as reflected in the 1848 edition of Ferīdūn Beg’s chancery manual, entitled Münşeʾātü ’s-Selāṭīn (‘Correspondence of Sultans’). Needless to say, a detailed examination of Ferīdūn’s Münşeʾāt would be an enormous task. The original work contained at least 528 documents spanning the period from the rise of Islam to the time of its completion (982 / 1574–1575). Any serious study of the Münşeʾāt would entail a comparison of the known manuscripts with the printed editions of 1848 and 1858, which pose considerable problems. [3] Perhaps one day there will be such a study. Until then, there is no reason not to make use of the existing editions, provided that it is understood that they reflect widely divergent manuscripts, which remain to be properly studied. As we will see, our edition even includes accretions from the early seventeenth century—specifically, a list of titles which is itself of considerable interest.
The work in question has been chosen for several reasons. First of all, its production coincides with the vizierate of Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa, who undoubtedly played an important role in its seeing the light of day. The Münşeʾāt’s compiler Ferīdūn Beg was Ṣoḳollu’s private secretary and close confidant. One of the greatest statesmen in Ottoman history, Ṣoḳollu is known for his imperial vision at a time when the empire was more outward-looking than in any period prior to the nineteenth century. Effectively ruling the empire from his appointment as grand vizier by Sultan Süleymān I in 1565 until his murder by a petitioner dressed as a dervish in 1579, his vision was founded on trade, logistics, and diplomacy rather than on military expansion. The conquest of Cyprus and destruction of the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto were brought about by the scheming of his enemies, Ṣoḳollu’s achievement at that juncture consisting rather in the rebuilding of the destroyed fleet in record time. The most famous examples of his geopolitical vision are the abortive Suez and Don-Volga canal projects and a military alliance with the Sultan of Aceh against the Portuguese; even more important, however, are his numerous buildings and pious foundations, many of them situated on major trade routes. [4]
A consummate diplomat, Ṣoḳollu was a lifelong friend of the Venetian bailo Marcantonio Barbaro even at times of war, and had dealings with all the great powers of his time: Iran, Russia, Austria, Poland, France, and England, to give but a few examples. It is therefore fitting to examine the Münşeʾāt as part of his vision and try to understand it in that context. The choice and chronological organization of the material provides insight into how the Ottoman state under Ṣoḳollu wanted to represent its relations with other countries—in other words, it gives us an idealized picture of Ottoman diplomacy, rather than an accurate record of the day-to-day dealings of the Ottoman chancery with foreign powers. However, a hierarchical list of titles appended to the beginning of the work several decades after its completion may perhaps come closer to providing insight into those day-to-day dealings, since it appears to have been intended as a practical guide. While it did not form part of the original work, and refers to a period several decades later in the empire’s history, it is interesting in its own right, and provides a useful contrast to the compilation made by Ferīdūn. It will therefore be discussed in some detail in the middle part of the present chapter.
First, however, a note on methodology is in order. Some may view the choice to focus on Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa and his circle as indicative of an outdated and flawed “great men” paradigm of history. Surely the study of Ottoman views of political geography should form part of a larger discussion of political culture, which transcends the influence of any single individual? While there can be little doubt that the formation and transformation of Ottoman political ideology over time should be attributed to a great many groups and individuals, most likely to remain forever obscure and anonymous, the period under examination is exceptional in that it is possible to identify a distinct political vision with a particular individual and his network of patronage, which extended from diplomacy to trade and the arts. For example, apart from the architecture already mentioned, it is known that Ṣoḳollu was behind a project of systematic visual representation of the Ottoman sultans down to his own time, for which he instructed artists to study western portraiture. [5] Surprisingly, however, the Münşeʾātü ’s-Selāṭīn has not been examined in the same light. The work in question is familiar to most Ottomanists as a collection of potential primary sources, rather than as a literary work in its own right produced by the circles around Ṣoḳollu at the time of the grand vizier’s greatest power and influence (1575). While the authenticity of the documents contained in the Münşeʾāt is a frequent subject of scholarly discussion—those attributed to the first Ottoman sultans ʿOs̱mān and Orḫan are known to be forgeries [6] —the compilation has yet to be examined as a whole for what it can tell us about Ottoman conceptions of diplomacy and political geography when it was made.
Such an examination is certainly worthwhile, for as we will see, Ferīdūn’s compilation reflects Ṣoḳollu’s imperial vision, a vision that aimed to create an orderly taxonomy of the Ottoman dynasty. In this way, it forms an interesting parallel to the sultanic portraits just mentioned. It appears that by selecting (and in some cases, creating) documents and incorporating them into a book, Ferīdūn intended to express an imperial vision of the Ottoman Empire and its diplomatic dealings with the outside world. A further indication that the work was identified with Ṣoḳollu’s vision is its poor reception: the book was compiled under Sultan Selīm II, who was a strong supporter of Ṣoḳollu, but upon Selīm’s death had to be presented to his heir Murād III, who was under the influence of Ṣoḳollu’s enemies at the court. [7]

Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa’s Foreign Policy and Imperial Vision

Before turning to an examination of the chancery manual and the list of titles subsequently appended to it, both of which shed light on Ottoman views of the larger political world at the end of the sixteenth century, it is a good idea to discuss first what is already known about Ṣoḳollu’s foreign policy and the imperial vision that it reveals. Several historians have studied Ottoman foreign relations at this time, most recently Giancarlo Casale, whose work has provided valuable insight into Ṣoḳollu’s vision of a “soft empire” in the Indian Ocean. [8] Like his powerful predecessor Rüstem Paşa, who was also a vizier of Sultan Süleymān I and with whose legacy he self-consciously competed, Ṣoḳollu perceived the Ottoman Empire’s greatness as founded on its ability to control trade. Since much of this trade came from the Indian Ocean, the result was intense competition with Portugal, the other great trading power in the region. As Casale has made clear, Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa’s strategy was “to expand Ottoman influence not through direct military intervention, but rather through the development of ideological, commercial, and diplomatic ties with the various Muslim communities of the region.” [9]
An essential ideological element underlying those ties was the Ottomans’ position as the leading Sunnī power in the world. This position was founded on the Ottoman record of conquest of new territory for Islam, as well as on possession of the main Muslim pilgrimage sites of Mecca and Medina, which gave the Ottoman sultan the right to use the title “Servitor of the Two Holy Shrines” (Ḫādımu ’l-Ḥarameyni ’ş-Şerīfeyn). With this right, however, came the obligation to protect the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which took place along some of the same routes as international trade. In fact, the Hajj was as much a trading expedition as a religious pilgrimage, as it involved numerous caravans. In the area of foreign policy, the need for the Ottomans to ensure the smooth functioning of the Hajj meant defensive alliances against predatory infidel powers like the Russians and Portuguese, while within its borders it involved large works of infrastructure. It is in this context that we must view the numerous pious complexes constructed by Ṣoḳollu along the main Ottoman imperial axis, which stretched from the Hungarian borderlands in the northwest, via the Balkans, Istanbul, Central Anatolia, and Syria, to Mecca in the southeast. Many of these complexes were built by the great architect Sinān, who recognized Ṣoḳollu as one of his greatest patrons. In fact, the choice to build along this axis echoed the preferences of Sultan Süleymān himself, and was apparently calculated to raise the reputation of Ṣoḳollu as a patron of architecture above that of Rüstem Paşa, whose numerous endowments are situated in regions nearer to the capital. [10]
Thus we see that Muslim sacred geography formed a crucial element in the Ottoman imperial worldview during this time. Fulfilling the requirements of the Ottoman role as protector of the Hajj was a prerequisite for Ṣoḳollu’s policy in the Indian Ocean, to which we now turn. In that part of the world, with the exception of the Sultan of Aceh in Indonesia, who requested military aid against the Portuguese in exchange for accepting Ottoman suzerainty, the situation that generally prevailed was a more informal one, in which close ties with Istanbul were encouraged among the local leadership. Because of the Hajj, Muslim trading elites in places like Gujarat, Calicut, and Ceylon began to look to Istanbul as a kind of metropole. Family connections were established, “Rūmī” traders and commercial factors made their appearance, and Ṣoḳollu encouraged and financed certain pro-Ottoman religious organizations, which in return recited the Friday sermon (khuṭba) in the Ottoman sultan’s name. Ṣoḳollu’s policy resulted in the recognition of the sultan in Istanbul as leader of the Sunnī Muslim world in the entire Indian Ocean region, so that for a time even the Mughals of India were forced to acknowledge his claims. [11]
But the Indian Ocean was only one area in which the Ottomans were operating during this time. Others were Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Caspian region. As already mentioned, Ṣoḳollu was a strong supporter of two visionary canal projects of great geopolitical significance, both eventually realized by others: the Suez canal connecting the Mediterranean and Red seas, and the Don-Volga canal linking the Caspian to the Black Sea. The first was never begun, because the vizier’s main rival in the Ottoman court, Lala Muṣṭafā Paşa, was governor of Egypt when Ṣoḳollu and his ally Ḳoca Sinān Paşa proposed it in the late 1560s. (In fact, Ḳoca Sinān made another effort after Ṣoḳollu’s death. [12] ) However, the second project was actually begun as part of the Ottoman Astrakhan campaign of 1569, only to be abandoned due to weather, Russian attacks on the workmen, and lack of support from the Ottomans’ main vassal in the area, the Crimean Khan. It would be attempted again by Peter the Great and finally completed after the Second World War. The Don-Volga canal project provides a good illustration of the intersection of politics, trade, and ideology in the context of the late sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire. Its ostensible purpose was to facilitate the movement of Hajj pilgrims from Central Asia through territory that had recently fallen into the hands of the infidel Russians; however, its success would have also led to the reconquest of the recently fallen vassal territories of Kazan and Astrakhan, thus strengthening the Ottoman hold over Shirvan, Georgia, and Karabagh and opening a second front against Iran. After the failure of the plan, in a manner typical of his overall diplomatic approach, Ṣoḳollu was able to patch up Ottoman-Russian relations. [13]
After the Indian Ocean and Caucasus regions, let us turn briefly to the situation in Europe and the Mediterranean. The period of Ṣoḳollu’s grand vizierate is best known in Ottoman-European relations as that of the Battle of Lepanto (1571), long viewed as a decisive victory for the West at a time when the Ottoman navy seemed invincible in the Eastern Mediterranean. But however great the Ottoman defeat may have been from a military point of view, its larger historical significance is still hotly disputed. While it is true that the Ottoman fleet was utterly destroyed at Lepanto, the empire was nevertheless able to hold on to Cyprus, whose recent acquisition was the direct cause of the battle. [14] Moreover, as already mentioned, Ṣoḳollu was able to rebuild the destroyed navy in a few months time, boasting according to one chronicler that “the Ottoman state is so powerful, if an order was issued to cast anchors from silver, to make rigging from silk, and to cut the sails from satin, it could be carried out for the entire fleet.” [15] Finally, it has even been suggested that the defeat may have been engineered by Ṣoḳollu in order to eliminate his enemies, since he presented himself from the beginning as opposed to the entire Cyprus campaign. [16]
If we look at the situation in purely territorial terms, in Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa’s first decade as grand vizier, the Ottomans may have failed to capture Malta, but succeeded in adding Cyprus and Tunis to their Mediterranean domains. In this way, they turned Crete into a lone Venetian outpost in the eastern Mediterranean awaiting eventual conquest in the mid-seventeenth century. Like the Black Sea before it, the eastern half of the Mediterranean (with the exception of the Adriatic, which Venice referred to as its “gulf”) thus became an Ottoman lake. As for the western half, after 1570 it was apparently abandoned to the Ottomans’ Christian enemies and the Muslim privateers of the Maghreb (the “Barbary pirates”) over whom the Ottomans began to practice a policy of limited control. [17]
In Central Europe, the Ottomans’ greatest rivals were of course the Habsburgs, with whose Austrian territories they shared a long and contested border. Earlier in the 16th century, Charles V’s claims to universal empire, publicized by a ceremony in which the Pope had crowned him Holy Roman Emperor, had caused Sultan Süleymān I to retaliate with his own propaganda campaign involving a priceless helmet-crown fashioned in Venice. [18] This crown, which was designed for a purely western audience, is a good example of the Ottomans’ versatility in adopting the imperial symbolism of their enemies. Since the disaster of 1402, when they were crushed by the Central Asian empire-builder Timur, they had been at least as acutely aware of their neighbors to the East, where more Persian and Central Asian ideas of kingship prevailed. In that connection, it should be noted that Ṣoḳollu’s career is closely related to the rise of illustrated manuscripts celebrating the exploits of the Ottoman dynasty in the verbal and visual language of the Persian Shāhnāma. Ṣoḳollu was the main patron of the great şehnāmeci Seyyid Lokman. [19] At the same time, Ṣoḳollu strengthened the Ottoman alliance with France—the capitulations of 1569 were apparently the first to be ratified, and Ferīdūn Beg, the author of our chancery manual, was also behind the translation from French to Turkish of a history of the kings of France. This is probably connected to the Ottoman portraiture project, which follows a similar format. [20] Other European countries with which the Ottoman Empire became involved at this time include Poland and England. [21]

The Münşeʾātü ’s-Selāṭīn: The List of Titles and Forms of Address

After this brief overview of Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa’s foreign policy and imperial vision, it is time to turn to the text that forms the main object of this examination. As already discussed, the 1848 edition of the Münşeʾātü ’s-Selāṭīn consulted for the present chapter begins with a detailed list of diplomatic titulature, apparently intended to serve as a guide for scribes engaged in correspondence with foreign rulers, but also with various high-ranking members of the Ottoman ruling class. From the rulers addressed, some of whom are mentioned by name, it is clear that this section was added several decades after Ferīdūn Beg completed his compilation. There is mention of Shah ʿAbbās I of Iran (1587–1629) and the Ottoman sultans Meḥmed III (1595–1603) and Aḥmed I (1603–1617), suggesting that the list was made shortly after the turn of the seventeenth century. Needless to say, by then the political world in which the Ottoman chancery was operating had changed considerably. Be that as it may, it is still worth taking a look at this very interesting list, which provides rare insight into the functioning of the Ottoman chancery in the field of foreign affairs.
As we would expect, the list begins with the Ottoman sultans, who are called “Pādişāhs of Islam.” There are sixteen long sets of titles used to address them. It should be noted that each of these is more than just a disjointed compilation, but follows an internal rhetorical logic, sometimes employing metaphors such as a garden or the celestial spheres. Furthermore, it is striking how many of the titles are derived from the Shāhnāma: as we have seen, by this time comparing the Ottoman sultan to a hero of the Shāhnāma was a standard form of representation. However, there may also be echoes here of the long Ottoman-Safavid war of 1578–1590. In any case, for the purposes of the present investigation, let us focus instead on imagery of a more geographical nature. First of all, there is the well-known title first used by Meḥmed the Conqueror, “Sultan of the Two Continents and the Two Seas” (Sulṭānü ’l-berreyn ve ’l-baḥreyn). This is of course an allusion to the location of the Ottoman capital, specifically the Topkapı palace built by Meḥmed on its acropolis, at the key intersection where Asia meets Europe, and where the Bosphorus (and by extension the Black Sea) meets the Sea of Marmara (and by extension the Mediterranean). Another title is “Great Khan of the Two Easts and of the Two Wests” (Ḫāḳānu ’l-maşrıḳeyn ve’lmaġribeyn), which seems at least superficially similar to the previous one. In fact it is of an altogether different nature, for it is derived from an expression used for God in the Qurʾān, “Lord of the Two Easts and Lord of the Two Wests” (Rabbu ’l-maşriqayni wa rabbu ’l-maghribayn, Qurʾān 55:17). The resemblance is obviously an intentional one, for like other rulers before them, the Ottoman sultans called themselves “Shadow of God on Earth” (ẓillu ’llāh fī ’l-arż
), another title appearing on our list. However it may perhaps be taken literally as well to mean Anatolia and the Arab east (the two easts) and the Balkans and North Africa (the two wests). Finally, as we saw earlier, the Ottoman sultan’s control of Mecca and Medina is recognized in his most prestigious title of all from an Islamic point of view, “Servitor of the Two Holy Shrines” (Ḫādımu ’l-ḥarameyni’ş-şerīfeyn). [22]
After enumerating the titles of the Ottoman sultans, the list moves on to those of other rulers. From the order in which these are given, as well as from their content, it is possible to discern an official hierarchy in foreign relations as reflected in diplomatic protocol. As we would expect, first come the Sharīfs of Mecca, to whom respect is owed because of their supreme place in Islamic sacred geography. However, they are followed by others whose position is connected to a very different worldview: the Khans of the Crimea. While the Crimean Khans had been vassals of the Ottomans since 1475, and began sending a hostage to the Ottoman palace around 1530, it is important to bear in mind that their pedigree (unlike that of the Ottomans) was beyond question in the northern tier of the Islamic world: they were members of the Giray family, rulers of the Golden Horde descended from Chingis Khan. As we have seen in the Don-Volga canal affair, the Khans of the Crimea were active in strategically important territory bordering on hostile non-Muslim states, their position in such a borderland giving them the power to act with a high degree of independence. [23]
Next in the list come other Muslim allies of the Ottomans: the Uzbek sultans, whose ruler ʿAbdullāh Khan (d. 1598) is mentioned by name, and the emirs of the Kurds and Gujarat. It is worth pointing out that one of the titles of the Uzbek sultan, whose alliance with the Ottomans resulted from having as common enemy the Shīʿī Safavids of Iran, makes explicit reference to the fact that like the Ottomans, he rules over people who follow the Sunnī Ḥanafī school of Islam. Then there is a brief mention of the ruler of Morocco (Ḥākim-i Fās), over whose territory as we have seen the Ottomans ceased to make claim, but with whom they made alliances against the Portuguese and Habsburgs. After them come some generic titles useful for addressing princes (elḳāb-ı evlād-ı selāṭīn) and sultans, and only then do we finally find the Persian shahs (Şāhān-ı ʿAcem), the Safavid rulers of Iran.
For the Ottomans, the Safavid Shahs were of course enemies and schismatics. Although they are mentioned late, no fewer than ten sets of titles are given for addressing them, and quite elaborate ones at that. This suggests that the list we are discussing served at least two parallel purposes: to provide a diplomatic hierarchy of the rulers with whose courts the Ottoman chancery was dealing, and to give more practical instructions on the diplomatic protocol for addressing them. While these goals are to some extent complementary, the need to satisfy them both leads at times to a contradiction, for it was natural for the chancery to need to correspond more frequently with enemies on the empire’s border such as the Safavid Shah than with distant friends like the Emīr of Gujarat. In other words, there was a conflict between the ideology of diplomacy and its day-to-day practice. This conflict is also apparent in the case of Christian rulers, to whom we will turn in a moment. Specifically in the case of the Safavids, however, it seems that it was necessary to show awareness and respect appropriate for a powerful enemy ruling over the heartlands of Irano-Islamic civilization, while avoiding any religious references. This was achieved through the use of literary language evoking the Persian classics, especially the Shāhnāma. [24]
Following the Safavid Shahs, the list turns to the ruling class of the Ottoman Empire itself. In order of presentation, these are viziers, governors (mīrmīrān), top bureaucrats (āsitāne defterdārı, nişāncı), the sultan’s favorites, and tribal leaders. Of these, specific mention is made only to the emīrs of the Roma people of Ḳırḳ Kilise, modern Kırklareli (ümerāʾ-yı Çengāne-yi Ḳırḳ Kilise) for whom it is stated that it is inappropriate to use more than two titles—perhaps a case of proto-racism. They are followed by more officials, listed only roughly in order of importance: in brief these are the head scribe (reʾīsülküttāb) and other members of the central bureaucracy, provincial governors (emīr, sancaḳbeyi), eunuchs (ḳapu aġaları), ship captains, castle wardens, mutes, judges and other men of religion, descendants of the Prophet (sādāt), and the head physician of the court (ibid., 9–12).
Only after finishing with all these people does the list finally turn to the rulers of non-Muslim countries. In the order given, these are as follows: the Austrian Emperor (Nemçe İmparatorı) as addressed by the grand vizier; the Austrian chief minister (Nemçe vezīri); the King of France (given the title pādişāh, presumably because he was an Ottoman ally); the Austrian, Polish, and Hungarian kings (ḳrāl); collective titles for addressing several Christian rulers at once (cemʿ ile ʿunvān); Venetian admirals (deryā cenerali); the Doge of Venice; the king of the Imeretians (Açık Baş); the kings of Guria and Imeretia when addressed together; the queen mothers of Christian kings (interesting at a time when Ottoman queen mothers had begun to wield a great deal of power); the voyvodas of Moldova and Wallachia; Wallachian boyars and monks; the Grand Hetman of Poland; the minister of the King of Poland; the Hetman of the Cossacks (specifically, the Zaporizhian Cossacks); and finally, the leaders of the Three Nations of Transylvania (unio trium nationum, a political entity consisting of Hungarians, Saxons, and free Szeklers) (ibid., 12–13).
What is interesting in the list of Christian rulers is the contrast between the multitude of different people and parties being addressed and the brevity of their titles. Not only do these rulers, with whom the Ottomans were obviously negotiating on a regular basis, come at the end of the list, but the entire catalogue of their titles takes up no more space than that of the Safavid Shahs. The Safavids may have been the Ottomans’ enemies, but despite being Shīʿī they were part of a shared Islamicate civilization (to use Marshall Hodgson’s term) and ruled over a territory that occupied a central position in that civilization’s cultural geography. It would thus appear that by the early seventeenth century, when the list was apparently compiled, the Ottoman chancery was self-consciously subscribing to such a worldview.
Whether the diplomatic protocol it reflects is indicative of the regard in which various strata of Ottoman society held the inhabitants of central and western Europe is, of course, impossible to determine entirely from the source in question. Preliminary research into the reception of European world maps in Ottoman ruling circles around this time appears to support the idea of a shift from an openness to such maps to a more traditionalist Islamocentric view of the world, but it is too early to make generalizations. [25] It is worth pointing out, however, that in the field of artistic patronage there were at least two such backlashes against western influence, which reached its height during the reign of Meḥmed II (1451–1481) and then again in the first two decades of the reign of Süleymān I (1520–1566). As we have seen, Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa had a wide worldview and is known to have appreciated western art; but even during the apogee of his career, there were limits to how explicitly such a worldview could be expressed, especially in an area as conservative as diplomatic protocol. In any case, it is probably a good idea to distinguish between the reality of diplomatic and cultural interaction with a region such as Europe, and ideological topoi to which scribes and authors felt obligated to pay lip service.

The Münşeʾātü ’s-Selāṭīn

Let us turn now to the body of Ferīdūn’s chancery manual to see what it can tell us about Ottoman conceptions of political geography. As is typical, the work begins with a lengthy and elaborate introduction praising God and the sultan and explaining the circumstances of its composition (ibid., 14–23). It is impossible to assess its significance in any detail here; suffice it to say that it refers to Ferīdūn’s presence at the siege of Szigetvar, which is described in more detail in his chronicle, Nüzhetü ’l-Esrāri ’l-Aḫbār, as well as to the fact that Murād III used Ferīdūn’s boat to cross from Mudanya to Istanbul upon his accession. [26] Reference is also made to Ottoman campaigns in Arabia, Yemen, and elsewhere, suggesting that a more detailed study of this part of the work might be of considerable value, especially in conjunction with other narrative sources from the same period. Introductions such as the one in question are usually ignored by historians, except as a source for specific factual information on the life of the author and circumstances of composition.
After the introduction, the chancery manual turns to its main purpose, the presentation of letters exchanged between rulers. Since the point of view is an Islamic one, it is natural that the first ruler to make an appearance should be the Prophet Muḥammad, followed by his immediate successors to the leadership of the early Muslim community, the four Rightly Guided Caliphs. Since the authenticity of such documents is highly questionable, they have so far failed to attract scholarly attention; this is unfortunate, for they form an integral part of the overall work, where they fulfill an important rhetorical function. By choosing to begin with Muḥammad and the Rightly Guided Caliphs, Ferīdūn Beg is able to present the Ottoman sultans, whose correspondence forms the bulk of the work, as successors to the Prophet Muḥammad in their leadership of the Islamic community (i.e. as Caliphs). Moreover, by his choice of the succession to Muḥammad, he makes it clear that the manual is the work of a Sunnī serving Sunnīs: Muḥammad is succeeded by the Rightly Guided Caliphs and not by a series of imams. Finally, the geographic location of the rulers with whom these early Muslim leaders correspond is also of great significance, for these are areas in which the Ottomans too were active around Ferīdūn’s time. This point will be developed further in a moment; first, let us turn to the documents.
The first letter is from the Prophet to the Byzantine Emperor, “the Caesar of Rūm” (Ḳayṣar-ı Rūm), and is followed by one to the early Muslim community as a whole. Then comes a letter to Ḥarith ibn Abū Shamra, a ruler whose land was conquered after he tore up the Prophet’s letters inviting him to become a Muslim. After that, there is one to the Persian King (Kesrā, Khosrow) and one to the king of the Abyssinians. Then there is a letter to the Coptic governor of Egypt (Muḳawḳis) and the Persian governor of Bahrein, al-Mundhir ibn Sāwī. [27] Many other places and personages of early Islamic history are mentioned: for instance, there is a letter to the people of al-Adhraḥ, a town under Roman rule in Syria, which submitted to the Prophet and paid the jizya after receiving a letter from him with an ultimatum. The letters attributed to the Prophet are followed by several by the Caliphs Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, ʿUthmān, and ʿAlī, as well as one each belonging to ʿĀʾisha and Ḥusayn (ibid., 34–47).
As was already discussed, it would be a mistake to dismiss all this out of hand as nothing more than a standard exercise in religious piety. The majority of the documents in question pertain to military expansion, an expansion that enlarged the domains of Islam to encompass much of the ancient Roman and Near Eastern world. It is, of course, a historical fact that enormous conquests were made in the first decades of Islam; but in light of what has just been said about Ottoman politics at the time of Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa, it is also probable that when reading the Prophet’s correspondence with the rulers of places like Iran, Abyssinia, and Bahrein, Ferīdūn’s readers would have drawn a connection between those early years of Islam and their own time. The places mentioned were ones in which the Ottomans themselves were active in the late sixteenth century, so that such documents would justify their activity, since the Ottomans were widely seen by their contemporaries as the pre-eminent Sunnī Muslim power in the world.
In fact, what follows in the Münşeʾāt is an attempt to show the Ottomans in precisely that light. Not bothering with the Abbasids and other intervening dynasties, the compiler jumps ahead to the Seljuks, the Turkish dynasty that briefly reunited the Middle East under Sunni rule in the mid-eleventh century, and which was also largely responsible for the Islamization of Anatolia. Since the fifteenth century, Ottoman chroniclers had attempted to legitimize the ruling dynasty by means of stories involving a transfer of power in the early fourteenth century from the moribund Seljuk state of Rūm to the Ottomans. [28] The Ottomans supposedly became Seljuk vassals when a symbolic white banner and drum were sent to them by the Seljuk Sultan ʿAlāeddīn—the same objects sent by Meḥmed the Conqueror to the Crimean Khan to assert his own power as overlord. [29] Thanks to Ferīdūn, these would no longer be simple stories in chronicles: a long document is provided whereby the Seljuk Sultan grants ʿOs̱mān I the right to rule Söğüt and the region around it in his name, followed by one sent to accompany the famous banner and drum. ʿOs̱mān’s replies are also provided. [30]
Turning now to the documents attributed to ʿOs̱mān’s successor Orḫan, it is interesting to note that most of these pertain to the Ottoman conquests being made during his reign. They are fetḥnāmes, namely letters announcing victory to other rulers. Among these rulers are not only those of the neighboring Anatolian emirates (the beyliks) but also “the Persian Shah (ʿAcem Şāhı) Ḥasan the Jalayirid.” Another Persian Shah is presented as corresponding with Sultan Murād I. [31] The use of the title ʿAcem Şāhı would inevitably have evoked the Safavids in the minds of sixteenth-century Ottoman readers, creating the impression that already from the early fourteenth century, the Ottoman Sultan had dealings with Iran. Although the term used is not the geographic Īrān but rather the more ethnic ʿAcem (meaning “Persian”), the impression created is similar: that of a foreign ruler governing a foreign land, one not geographically part of the Ottoman Empire, but with a long history of its own, an ancient and prestigious part of the Islamic world. While it may seem obvious in our day to derive the title of a ruler from the country or people being ruled, it is important to remember that in the premodern period this was not necessarily the case. Indeed, for the Ottomans it was often the other way around: in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, they called some of the territories with which they came into contact after their rulers (e.g. Serbia was called Laz-ili, “the land of Lazar,” after the Serbian king of that name).
In the age of Ṣoḳollu’s global empire, however, the world was a much bigger place. As we follow Ferīdūn’s manual through the reigns of Murād I and subsequent sultans all the way to Süleymān the Magnificent, we witness the military expansion of the Ottoman state. The vast majority of the documents pertain to that expansion, which can be observed through letters announcing important conquests to foreign rulers (fetḥ-nāme, iʿlān-nāme), documents of congratulation from such rulers (tebrīk-nāme) and the like. Through such a presentation, conquest and diplomacy appear to go hand in hand, and the Ottoman Sultan’s world supremacy seems founded upon the recognition of his conquests by other important Muslim sovereigns. Even in cases where the Ottoman Sultan’s actions do not meet with the approval of a foreign ruler, the inclusion in the Münşeʾāt of the Ottoman response to such challenges serves the purpose of refuting them. Take for example the exchange between the Ottoman Sultan Meḥmed I and the Timurid ruler Shāhrukh:
[Shahrukh]To the great sultan, master of the kings among nations, killer of the infidels and subduer of the wicked, him who exerts efforts [mujāhid] in the path of God, the one and only orderer of the world and religion [niẓāmu’l-mulk va ’d-dīn] Sultan Mehmed (sic), may God perpetuate his rule and prolong him in his royal beneficence. When this [letter] arrives, let it be known that it has attained our lofty ears that Süleyman Beg and Musa Beg and İsa Beg were in a state of dispute and contention with him, and that following the Ottoman custom [töre-i ʿOs̱mānī] he has freed each one of them from the commotion of this world [Quranic excerpt omitted here] But according to Ilkhanid custom [töre-i İlḫānī], this manner of action among dearly beloved brothers is deemed unacceptable, since a few days’ worth of dominion has no permanency, that such actions be perpetrated on its account.
[Mehmed]As for the counsel that was given on the matter of the brothers of the Age [iḫwān-i zamān], we are obedient [farmānbarīm]. However, from the first hints of the rise of the dawn of the Ottoman state [Dawlat-i ʿOsmāniyye]—may God have mercy on their ancestors and perpetuate their successors!—[the Ottoman sultans] resolved to take on the problems of the day mostly guided by experience. And there is no doubt that the totality of political power [salṭanat] does not admit division. In the words of the author of the Gulistān [i.e. Saʿdī], which are strung together like pearls—may God the King the Merciful pardon his sins!—“Ten dervishes can huddle together on a carpet, but two kings don’t fit in the same clime.” Given this situation, security depends upon the peculiar fact that the enemies of religion and the state all around are constantly awaiting the smallest opportunity [to strike]. While the strength or collapse of worldly possessions does not depend on politics but divine predestination, nevertheless, if the neighboring rulers were Muslim princes of high lineage, there would be no reason to worry. Heaven forbid that the base infidels should obtain an opportunity! For as his Highness [Shahrukh] is aware, in the incident involving my deceased ancestor [Yıldırım Bayezid], many lands that had been won to Islam such as Selanik [Thessaloniki] and other places were lost from the hands of the Muslims [couplet omitted here] And that is the reason why in these matters of the sultanate and succession they [the Ottomans] have chosen to separate themselves from the rest of the world. And the best is that which is preferred by God.
Ferīdūn 1848:150–151; translation from Kastritsis 2007:203–205
Leaving aside the question of whether or not this correspondence is authentic, which it probably is, its inclusion by Ferīdūn in his manual had several advantages for the compiler’s effort to produce a consistent and flattering picture of the House of ʿOs̱mān. First of all, it justified bloody Ottoman succession practices, which by the sixteenth century were institutionalized, but still not fully accepted. Perhaps more importantly, though, it reminded readers that as early as 1416 a distant foreign ruler of the status of Shāhrukh, who at this time considered Meḥmed I as his vassal, recognized Ottoman accomplishments in conquering new territory from the infidels. [32] The question of the degree to which the Ottomans viewed and presented themselves as warriors of the faith (ġāzī) before the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 may still be a contested one, [33] but no one doubts that by Ferīdūn’s time, this attribute had become a central part of Ottoman claims to political legitimacy.
The correspondence between Meḥmed I and Shāhrukh is just one example of how documents in Ferīdūn’s Münşeʾāt can be considered as part of a coherent project of imperial legitimation. Surely there are many more, which should ideally be studied in a systematic manner across the entire work. However, as stated from the outset, the present discussion is by necessity based on no more than an impressionistic overview of the Münşeʾātü ’s-Selāṭīn. Its goals are modest, and are mostly limited to suggesting possible avenues by which the work may be approached as a whole. One way to advance this agenda is by briefly considering a coherent set of documents contained in the larger compilation in order to illustrate the sort of questions, rich in political implications, that arise from the study of Ferīdūn’s manual as a complete literary work rather than a mere treasure trove of documents.
Let us briefly focus then on the reign of Sultan Selīm I (1512–1520). [34] Selīm’s reign has the advantage of being short enough to examine in its entirety, but of central importance to the Münşeʾāt’s overall presentation of the Ottomans as a dynasty destined to take the leading role in a larger community of Muslim states. The sultan in question played a crucial role in that process, for it was he who defeated not only the schismatic Safavids, but also the Mamluks, who had until then been the Servitors of the Holy Shrines, but were unable to live up to their role as leaders of the Islamic community, because they could not confront the Portuguese in the Red Sea without Ottoman assistance. By replacing them, Selīm expanded Ottoman territory to include the holy shrines of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, and many of the other central lands of Islam.
The documents from Selīm’s reign begin with one from his brother and rival Ḳorḳud, followed by one to the ruler of Samarkand. After these comes the lengthy correspondence between Selīm and the Safavid Shah Ismāʿīl leading up to the Battle of Çaldıran (1514). The documents following this event are fetḥnāmes announcing that great victory to the following: prince Süleymān, the future sultan; the Crimean Khan; various local rulers of eastern Anatolia (ümerāʾ-yı şarḳ) and the Kurds; and the local nobility (aʿyān) of Tabriz. Then there is a letter to the Ottoman general assigned the task of conquering that city, and one showing goodwill to the population of “the eastern province” (vilāyet-i şarḳ). After these come more fetḥnāmes: to the ruler of Luristan (a part of Iran not under Safavid rule); to a certain Kurdish ruler; and to various other allies in the area. Finally, there is a fetḥnāme to the Ḳāḍī of Edirne (Edrene ḥākimi). The inclusion of the former Ottoman capitals of Edirne and Bursa in such lists is a pattern that is also repeated elsewhere in the collection, which suggests a special reverence for those towns. By including them, Ferīdūn seems to be suggesting that despite their status as world rulers, the Ottomans never forgot where they came from.
These letters are followed not by more correspondence but by campaign diaries. The inclusion of such material is of great interest, for it provides further proof that Ferīdūn’s compilation was never intended as a practical chancery manual at all, but rather as a type of history writing. The first campaign diary is a detailed list with dates of all Selīm’s stops (menzil, pl. menāzil) on his way to and from the Battle of Çaldıran, taking up twelve large pages in the printed edition. This section is followed by a similar diary for the sultan’s travel from Amasya to Kemah, whose conquest along with the territory of Dulkadır is announced to the future Sultan Süleymān in a fetḥnāme. This letter provides continuity and allows Ferīdūn to return to the presentation of correspondence. But it is worth dwelling here for a moment more on the campaign diaries. It should be borne in mind that in the Ottoman context, the genre in question reached its apogee in the richly illustrated manuscript of Maṭrāḳçı Naṣūḥ, which depicts Sultan Süleymān’s stops on his campaign of the so-called “two Iraqs” (al-ʿIrāḳeyn, namely Iraq and Iran) in an innovative manner emphasizing towns and public buildings. [35] In our chancery manual, there are several more campaign diaries; one of these relates to Selīm’s campaign against Egypt at the end of his reign. But first come documents similar to the ones already discussed: further correspondence with Shah Ismāʿīl and the Mamluk Sultan Qansūh al-Ghawri, who is about to give up his empire and life to the Ottoman Sultan; fetḥnāmes for Kemah and Egypt sent to the Tatar Khan, the Shirvānshāh (who appears frequently throughout the manual), the rulers of Gīlān and Māzandarān (all governing non-Safavid regions of Iran), and the Ḳāḍī of Edirne; and finally, congratulations to Selīm from the pādişāh of India and the Ḳāḍī of Bursa.
To conclude this brief survey, what if anything can be deduced about the Ottoman view of the world in the late sixteenth century from this brief examination of Ferīdūn Beg’s Münşeʾātü ’s-Selāṭīn? Needless to say, this chapter provides little more than a glimpse into what might await the brave researcher willing to take on the monumental task of studying the work as a whole. The main point to retain is that the mere fact of the creation of such a compilation at this particular juncture in Ottoman history is significant in and of itself. Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa was perhaps the greatest diplomat in Ottoman history, and we have seen that he had a very large view of a world he hoped to dominate not through war, but through diplomacy, trade, and logistics. The documents in Ferīdūn’s manual (whether authentic or not) present an image of the Ottoman sultans as Muslim rulers involved in territorial expansion and correspondence with other Muslim rulers—hence its title Münşeʾātü ’s-Selāṭīn, “Correspondence of Sultans.” Although in reality the Ottomans at the time probably corresponded at least as much with non-Muslim rulers as they did with Muslim ones, such “infidel” rulers are mentioned much less frequently—and needless to say, the Ottoman Sultan did not share his victories with non-Muslim rulers by means of fetḥnāmes.
Throughout the present article, Ferīdūn’s work has been called a chancery manual, in accordance with the standard terminology of the field and the genre to which the work in question purports to belong. However, its contents are not an accurate description of the day-to-day workings of the Ottoman chancery in the field of foreign affairs. These workings are probably better represented by the list of titles and forms of address discussed in the middle part of this chapter, which was appended to the volume a few decades later. Instead, the Münşeʾāt should be viewed first and foremost as another piece of imperial image making, like the sultan’s portraits and magnificently illustrated Shāhnāma-type works produced at approximately the same time. As we have seen, the image that Ferīdūn’s work tries to convey is that of an Ottoman dynasty whose legitimacy derives from its conquests in the non-Muslim world, its succession to the Seljuks of Rūm, and its leadership of the Islamic community, which effectively makes the Ottoman Sultan a successor to the Prophet Muḥammad himself.
Reading Ferīdūn’s Münşeʾāt, one gets the sense of an Ottoman progression from humble beginnings to world supremacy and empire. However, in line with Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa’s vision, the empire in question is a “soft” one, and the Ottoman Sultan a first among equals, conquering enemies, but also corresponding with his peers. Such an image was useful to Ṣoḳollu in promoting his Ottoman influence in the Middle East and Indian Ocean, and as it happens, is also a fairly Islamic one. But perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of Ṣoḳollu Meḥmed Paşa’s regime was the ability to promote multiple visions across multiple media, experimenting with imperial image making in a way that strikes us at times as surprisingly modern. After all, his vision was wide enough to encompass alongside the Münşeʾāt a work on the Kings of France. If we compare Ṣoḳollu to the other two great grand viziers of Sultan Süleymān I, the European-oriented İbrāhīm Paşa and the trade-oriented Rüstem Paşa, we see that he has attributes of both. As for Ferīdūn, he was Ṣoḳollu’s closest confidant, so it is natural that his Münşeʾāt should be seen as part of the same vision.


Ferīdūn 1848.
Ferīdūn. 1848 (–1857). Mecmūʿa-yı münşeʾāt-ı Ferīdūn Bey. Istanbul.

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[ back ] 1. Hagen 2003; Hagen 2000; Kafadar 2007; Faroqhi 2004:179–210.
[ back ] 2. Karateke et al, 2005; Necipoğlu, 1991; Yılmaz, 2005.
[ back ] 3. Ferīdūn 1848; Ferīdūn 1858; Mordtmann 1983. Both editions of Ferīdūn are rare. The later one contains more documents; however, I have been unable to consult it for the purposes of this chapter and have used the first instead.
[ back ] 4. Veinstein 1997, which contains a useful bibliography.
[ back ] 5. Topkapı Museum 2000.
[ back ] 6. Mordtmann 1983.
[ back ] 7. Ibid.
[ back ] 8. Casale 2007; Casale 2010. Although primarily concerned with events in the 1580s, Casale 2007:276–282 contains a useful overview of Ṣoḳollu’s policy of “soft empire” in the 1560s and 70s and its implications.
[ back ] 9. Casale 2007:277.
[ back ] 10. Necipoğlu 2005:345, 578–579.
[ back ] 11. Casale 2007:277.
[ back ] 12. See Casale 2007:285.
[ back ] 13. Veinstein 1997.
[ back ] 14. Hess 1972; Pedani 2005.
[ back ] 15. Hess 1972:54. The chronicler in question is Peçevī.
[ back ] 16. Pedani 2005:31.
[ back ] 17. Pedani 2005:28; Hess 1978:74–87.
[ back ] 18. Necipoğlu 1989.
[ back ] 19. Fetvacı 2005:83–134.
[ back ] 20. Fetvacı 2005:107–108.
[ back ] 21. Veinstein 1997; Mordtmann 1983.
[ back ] 22. Ferīdūn 1848:2–4.
[ back ] 23. Ferīdūn 1848:4–6; İnalcık 1983.
[ back ] 24. Ferīdūn 1848:6–9.
[ back ] 25. See the ongoing work of Giancarlo Casale, who has been studying the so-called map of Hajji Ahmed from the point of view of its possible authors and intended audience. An article by him on the subject is forthcoming in the proceedings of a workshop held at the University of Indiana on October 30, 2009; the volume will be entitled Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future: Historiography of the Ottoman Empire (ed. Erdem Çıpa and Emine Fetvacı).
[ back ] 26. Mordtmann 1983; Vatin 2010.
[ back ] 27. Ferīdūn 1848:31–33.
[ back ] 28. Imber 1987:13–15.
[ back ] 29. Kafadar 1995:147.
[ back ] 30. Ferīdūn 1848:48–60.
[ back ] 31. Ferīdūn 1848:73, 91.
[ back ] 32. Kastritsis 2007:4, 202–220.
[ back ] 33. Imber 1987; Lowry 2003.
[ back ] 34. What follows is based mostly on the book’s table of contents (Ferīdūn 1848:xxi-xxiv). When the actual documents are discussed, the pages numbers can also be found from this table.
[ back ] 35. Maṭrāḳçı Naṣūḥ 1976; Faroqhi 2004:196–197.